I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS, after a long trip that was improved by my being upgraded to Business Class on the transatlantic leg. I have lots of blog-intended notes from the conference, plus a backlog of other items. Let's see how far I can get this afternoon.
On Sunday morning I heard Byron McCane speak on the "Ya'acob bar Yosef ahui di Yeshua' (i.e., the text of the "James Ossuary") in the Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World Section (S23-3). One of the concepts we ancient historians take for granted, yet have immense difficulty getting across to laypeople, is that there is a large range of "theories" that we or our subspecialties agree to be quite impossible and not worth talking about (because they are obviously grossly flawed methodologically or the evidence put forth for them is obviously wrong or for various other reasons). There are lots of other theories that are somewhere between barely possible and quite likely, and it is this latter category of the possible that we spend so much time arguing about, while we tend to ignore the impossible theories except when, say, a crank manages to get them some media attention, in which case we say that they're impossible and the crank complains about ossified mainstream scholarship which can't appreciate his or her grand breakthrough.
What I'm leading up to here is that Professor McCane and every other archaeologist who opened his or her mouth in this session clearly put the genuineness of the full inscription on the "James Ossuary" in the first category: impossible, disproved, and not worth discussing. I'm not an archaeologist myself, let alone a geologist or whoever it is who decides if patinas have been cut through or not. But I'm pretty impressed with this consensus and am disinclined to take the inscription seriously after seeing their united front. Still, I would like to see the refutation published in a peer-review journal in more detail than has been presented so far.
Late in the morning, Bob Kraft presented his paper "Exploring Greek Jewish Scribal Practices: The Evidence from the Earliest LXX/OG Fragments"
in the Hellenistic Judaism Section (S23-9). Follow the link to get the full text of the paper on his website.
Bob also gave a paper on "Pursuing Papyrology via the Web" in the Computer Assisted Research Section (CARG - S23-58). Some of the sites he surveyed included:
The American Society of Papyrology
Texts, Manuscripts and Palaeography (Jay Treat)
Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (literary texts, but includes magical papyri)
John Muccigrosso's Papyrology Home Page (stops at the year 2000)
University of Michigan Papyrus Collection
Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri
Kraft's gopher papyri page
Unidentified Jewish and Christian Papyri (Kraft)
Kraft, "Textual Mechanics of Early LXX/OG papyri"
On Monday morning I gave my paper, Is the Story of Zosimus Really a Jewish Composition?"
in the Pseudepigrapha Section (S24-20). One person asked if we shouldn't take the line that for Pseudepigrapha transmitted in Christian circles the burden of proof is on anyone making a claim about their origin, rather than on anyone wanting to move backwards to a Jewish text. This is true in a sense, but the point I was trying to drive home was that we actually have the physical manuscripts of a certain date and provenance. The MSS are physical facts and our starting point should be that the text made sense to someone as a Christian work at that date in those circles. The burden of proof is on anyone who wishes to move backwards from there. Sometimes it will be relatively straightforward to work backwards to a Jewish origin around the turn of the era (e.g., for 4 Ezra
or the Psalms of Solomon
). But in many cases, such as that of the Story of Zosimus
and its sources, it is very difficult to make such a case. Another person cautioned that we have to be careful not to confuse composition with transmission, since they are not the same thing. I agree. But the starting point
is the manuscripts and we need to work backwards from them as required by the evidence and only
as required by the evidence.
On Monday afternoon I heard Joe Zias and Emile Puech speak on "The 'Tomb of Absalom' and the People of the Book: A Question of Literacy!" (S24-53). The point of the last clause was that for centuries in the late Middle Ages and early modern period people followed the custom of stoning the monument because they thought it was Absalom's. If any of them had been able to read the prominent inscriptions on the front of it, they would have realized that it wasn't. Zias and Puech also discussed the newly recovered Simeon inscription
on the tomb, which I mentioned a few days ago.
Later on Monday afternoon I attended the session on "Massive Scholarly Data Projects: Perspectives and Experiences" (S24-120). The following projects were discussed:
Stephen Kaufman: Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon
Steve Tinney: Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary
Traianos Gagos: APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System, on which see also above)
Gregory Crane was unfortunately not able to be present to discuss the Perseus Digital Library
Also, Patrick Durusau spoke on "Lost in a Data Sea? Navigating with Topic Maps," and gave a number of websites on the subject. According to my notes, he said to see the technology section on the new Society of Biblical Literature website for the links. But I must have misunderstood something, because I can't find
a technology section on the new Society of Biblical Literature website. I did write down one URL he mentioned: http://www.coolheads.com
I went to other interesting papers and took notes on some of them, but it's nearly supper time here and I imagine my family would like to see a little of me, so I think this will have to suffice. Overall, a very good conference.
By the way, Mark Goodacre
is also blogging the conference. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wandered around like a lost soul looking for the e-listers at the Gramcord booth in the book displays. The lower level of displays was remarkably well hidden, with no elevator access and access by only one escalator at the back of the building.